Fat chance of diet regulation, but we’ll weight and see

By August 19, 2009Uncategorized

There are many good reasons not to be a lawyer. The conversation stopping, effect at parties. The requirement to undergo body cavity searches are every airport where you fill in a customs declaration. And the most pressing of all, the constant need to be up to date.

If you give advice which is based on out-dated information, there is no shortage of your colleagues happy to assist your former client in lodging his claim for damages. They will happily point out that of course you should have been aware of the High Court’s ruling in Muffy v The Crown handed down last Tuesday. And Courts will have little difficulty agreeing that you have been sadly remiss in your continuing education requirement, and strike you from the rolls.

We expect lawyers to be up to the minute because if they stuff things up, the consequences can be very dramatic indeed. Ok, bad advice won’t kill you but it might as well after they’ve carted off you last possession in the back of the repo truck. We have similar expectations of doctors, nurses and even paramedics for very similar reasons (except, when they stuff up it very well may kill you).

But for some reason when it comes to dietary advice all the standards of professional conduct appear to go out the window. Until now, that is. The word on the street today is that one of Kevin’s multitude of taskforce commission thingys wants to regulate the weightloss industry.

According to the Telegraph, the Preventative Health Taskforce wants a ‘wide-ranging review of diet products and a common code of practice drawn up covering the cost, the training of counsellors and the promotion of the diets’. The idea being that if they can’t prove the diet works (after say, two years), then it will not be approved for sale or the promoter’s license will be withdrawn or something like that (the details are a bit vague).

If this were to actually happen then it would be a giant step forward, but I’m not holding my breath. The little evidence there is on the effectiveness of diets (which hasn’t been paid for by the promoters) is damning.

One recent example is a study out of the University of Missouri. The researchers looked at two popular weightloss options and directly compared them over a 12 week period. What makes the study unique is that they didn’t just focus on the amount of weight lost. They dug a little deeper to determine exactly what kind of weight was lost. Was it muscle mass or fat? The news was not good for either option.

Fifty Eight overweight, sedentary (less than 60 minutes exercise per week) women were randomly assigned to either a group completing a Weight Watchers program (the largest and oldest diet program in the world) or enrolled in Golds Gym’s weightloss program.

The average participant was 32 years old, had a BMI of 30 (just on the border of obese) and a body fat percentage of 40% at the start of the 12 week program.

The average gym member lost about one kilogram after 12 weeks and the average weight watcher lost four kilos (about 5% of their body weight). More importantly, neither group reduced their percentage of body fat. Whatever they lost it wasn’t fat (which means it was either muscle or water).

Neither group improved their cholesterol or triacylglyceride profile. If they were heart attack or diabetes candidates before they started they still were when they finished. So after 12 weeks of sweating at the gym or attending weight watchers meetings and eating special (and expensive) meals, the end result was exactly … nothing. Oh, except the weight watchers lost some of their muscle mass.

I can’t see the diet industry just standing there and taking the imposition of a regulator and professional standards without a fight. There is a whole lot of lobbying between a story in the Tele and actual legislation. But it’s a fight we need to have. Sure, bad advice from a doctor might kill you a lot quicker than bad advice from a nutritionist, but that doesn’t make the advice any less dangerous, the profession any less in need of regulation, or the ‘professional’ any less legally (and morally) liable for their actions. Bring it on, and the sooner the better.

Also published in Crikey.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Ravenwing says:

    I wonder why no-one comments? Perhaps you’re too well followed and people feel like they ought to say something profound and well considered or at very least controversial or not say anything at all.

    I agree. We’re about as likely to see diet regulation as we are true environmental sustainability… and for the very same reason. The diet economy is as huge and ever expanding as our backsides. It might happen. If it becomes more economically viable to chasten the market than to pay for health care, we might see it. Perhaps the market will step in instead and provide us with Wall-E like hovercraft to support our girth as we sip on a cupcake in a cup.

    The diet industry is powerful, promising and not a little scary. I was duped by it. I tested the promise of the lemon detox. Now I forever and ever prefix the diet with ‘that stupid’. Sure, I lost 4 kgs, but as you wrote in your blog, it wasn’t fat. It then kicked me in the teeth by slowing my metabolism down to the glacial rate.

    Hi, my name is Ravenwing and I’m a sugaholic… this is my first confession.

  • Ashok K.R says:

    i tried weight watchers and they are good

    Weight Loss Pills

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